We all know that the indie gaming world is growing exponentially. I don’t need to drum that into your head yet again, lest you wish to find yourself drilling jagged perforations into your eye sockets in a fit of unbridled frustration. What some of us might forget, however, is the very thing that drives independent development to a global audience – the functional platform that we’re increasingly taking for granted.
That, children, is the role of digital distribution services, and GamersGate might just be the biggest, at least as far as the dedicated delivery of indie goodness is concerned.
I recently spoke with Gustav Nisser, GamersGate’s own business director, about the service’s stance on the independent gaming market. The response, it seems, was extremely encouraging.[private_insider] IGM: As everyone who has used your service knows, GamersGate is quickly becoming an extremely viable outlet for the distribution of large retail games, with many of the biggest recent releases offered through GamersGate’s swift, user-friendly service. More importantly from our perspective, however, indie games are forging an ever-increasing presence in GamersGate’s catalogue, many of which, including the likes of Explodemon, A Sirius Game, Metal Dead, 3079 and Three Dead Zed having appeared on your platform straight from the onset. What all these games have in common is that they appear to have been snubbed by some of your high-profile rivals in the digital distribution realm. What, in your opinion, are the underlying factors behind this trend? Is it a result of GamersGate’s policy to accept a wider range of gaming genres and models or a case of other services being unwilling to take chances on what are clearly well-crafted gaming products?
Gustav Nisser (GN): We try to be as accommodating as possible, and our policy when it comes to which game we take in is, “If it works, we’ll take it.” This is for two reasons. First, our goal is to provide gamers with any game they might want, and that means we need to work with all of them – or as close to all of them as possible. Secondly, we want to support all game makers. The way we see it, indie games and developers do wonders for the industry. They help to innovate both the games themselves and the business models around the games, as well as being extremely talented in many areas. They have to be, since one indie dev team or person needs to do everything a larger company does, if not more.
IGM: So, what do you feel that GamersGate offers some of the lower-profile indie developers that other services aren’t able to provide?
GN: We offer the exact same deal as we offer the bigger publishers, and the same amount of promotions, so it’s everything from access to our self-publishing system to getting promoted on our site and through our newsletter, and being part of our scheduled promotions. We do our best to treat every game and publisher equally.
Not only that, and it’s still a little hush-hush, but we’re actually working on a new project called IndieFort. Basically, we’re building a platform to support indie developers, giving them more control and freedom – you’ll hear more about this in the near future!
IGM: One of GamersGate’s most appealing features seems to be its “client-free” nature, allowing gamers to directly download many of their purchases without the inconvenience of having to install potentially intrusive third-party applications. A common trend among the vast majority of the indie developers we speak with is that they almost universally oppose the concept of DRM, something that GamersGate’s model appears to steer clear from, other than in instances in which publishers decide to implement Steam or Origin-activatable product keys in their games. With that in mind, do you feel that your philosophy towards DRM is similar to many of these indie developers?
GN: The way we see it, it’s not our place to decide whether a developer or publisher wants or should have a DRM on their game, so we do whatever they want in that case, although, if there’s a DRM-free version of a game, we always prefer getting that one.
The reason for this is that, from many developers, the feedback we get is that they feel that DRM causes more issues for legitimate players than stopping piracy.
The reason we don’t have a client connects to what I mentioned above – we want to be a service for everyone. Since not everyone likes the idea of a client, we don’t have one. We want to focus on creating a great store, not a gaming system, platform or DRM.
IGM: Besides the games themselves, GamersGate also sports a variety of popular side attractions, ranging from Achievements, EXP and your patented Blue Coins system, all of which offer buyers extra rewards and incentives for using your service. What was the motivation behind the introduction of these schemes, and are there any other such promotional features that you’re looking at bringing into action?
GN: We are very proud of our loyalty system, which we consider the achievements, Blue Coins and ranks (experience) to be a part of. This is a huge part of creating a fun and engaging shopping experience and we will continue to develop it further. The Minions will be the ones to see the most development soon, since we haven’t quite gotten around to implementing all their features just yet!
Most of the features we try to implement are there to improve the customer experience, whether it’s providing benefits to long-time, loyal customers or rewards for new customers. We’re currently looking at making our site smarter via things like the search function or connecting base games with their expansions, DLCs and sequels. Or connecting one indie dev to all the titles they’ve worked on.
IGM: One only has to take a look at some of the sales figures with regards to online game sales to realise that digital distribution is growing exponentially, especially on the PC platform. With the overwhelming majority of indie games only seeing online releases, do you think that the obvious push towards digital sales in the gaming market will be increasingly beneficial to indie developers?
GN: Absolutely. If more people get used to buying games digitally, it will be easier to bring well-deserved attention to indie games.
IGM: Perhaps the most controversial issue in the gaming industry is one that has seemingly existed since the very beginning, and that’s piracy. In the period between GamersGate’s original inception and the situation we see today, would you say that the steps taken by publishers, developers and distributors to halt piracy have been successful, and is there anything else that you think can be done to make sure that gamers are neither tempted nor in an easy position to steal their games?
GN: Obviously, this is a huge and difficult issue and it’s also something we discuss internally quite often, so our view develops with time, as well as our ideas as to how to combat piracy. From an indie perspective, my personal opinion is that good PR and a friendly attitude is the best way to minimize piracy, since very few people are willing to rip off someone they like.
IGM: Even though GamersGate is establishing itself as one of the primary distributors of indie games, the vast number of “Pay-What-You-Like” bundles, most prominently the Humble Indie Bundle, have really taken off and have introduced gamers to a whole host of products that they might otherwise never have come across. Taking this success into consideration, do you feel that GamersGate will be able to run in tandem with this new business model without losing potential sales as customers wait for existing games to be offered as part of future bundles?
GN: We are always trying to find new business models and run tests to see how successful they are. One of the biggest benefits of keeping our organization relatively small is that we can move very fast – both in coming up with new things or reacting to outside influences. Besides, we’re always hungry to try the next idea!
We will soon be offering “Pay-What-You-Like” bundles and other alternative business models. Generally, though, publishers decide what price and what business model to use with their games – we have no say in the matter. With that in mind, we are always happy to advise a developer or publisher who might not be sure about which model would work best for their game. This is also something we’ll be looking at helping out with through IndieFort.
IGM: Continuing on the subject of economics, how much of an impact do your regular discount sales have on the number of sales enjoyed by your associated products, particularly those that fall within the indie bracket?
GN: Generally, sales have a great impact on both volume and revenue, but it does vary. Some titles will just explode and generate an insane number of sales, whereas some will see a smaller increase.
IGM: What does the future hold for GamersGate as far as the indie games scene is concerned? Can we expect to see many of 2012’s biggest indie titles see releases on your platform?
GN: IndieFort! It’s going to be awesome, and we’re involving some people from the indie community to help us build it. Once it’s ready, it’ll be our gift to the indie community and hopefully they will appreciate it and help take it to the next level.
When it comes to getting all the newest indie games to GamersGate, we are constantly in discussions with developers – both signed and unsigned – about new and upcoming titles and we are working very hard to sign as many of them up as possible.
IGM: Finally, are there any recently released indie games on GamersGate that you would recommend to an open-minded gaming audience?
GN: We have loads of great indie both released and in development (available in Alpha/Beta stage) that are worth checking out. It’s tough, and it seems unfair to recommend just a few, but here are some we think are great or have great potential:
Towns, the flipside of an RPG, running a town by a dungeon, Pineapple Smash Crew, a fast-paced tactical blast-em-up, and Terrorhedron 3D, a 3D co-op tower defense game.
I’d also like to give a shout-out to a game that isn’t actually on GamersGate yet (although I hope they’ll join us soon!) – Desktop Dungeons. I’ve already played that way too much!
IGM: Thanks a lot, Gustav. Here’s to a great future for GamersGate.